This reflection was first published on The Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network in August, 2017.
This month Pope Francis asks the world to pray for artists: That artists of our time, through their ingenuity, may help everyone discover the beauty of creation.
The Pope’s Prayer Intention for Artists invites us to ask: How can we become “custodians of beauty”, that we may all discover the beauty of creation?
Artists: Creativity an echo of God’s Creation
When God finished the work of creating the earth in Genesis, he “said that it was good”. There is much that is difficult, painful, and ugly in the world today, but in the beginning, it was created good and beautiful — and Christ’s saving work is to return us to that paradise. The arts are our creative response to the world we have been given; our creations are an echo of God’s creation.
We experience the world through our senses, through our ears, eyes and bodies. Art is physical, but it awakens in us a sense of the spiritual, and can point us to God. Through painting, music, theatre, etc. we see the incarnation – the flesh and blood- of the beauty, truth and goodness of God. Through beauty artists communicate a physical presence of God, an echo of God’s physical presence in the Eucharist.
No longer an important criteria for art in the contemporary art world, popular culture has twisted the word “beauty” in slick magazines to mean inachievable physical perfection. Beauty is often deemed as luxury, superfluous, non-essential in the same way the apostle questioned the woman’s offering of perfume to Jesus “we could have sold that bottle and given the money to the poor.” But true beauty is always intertwined with her sisters, truth and goodness, and beauty is a powerful means of communicating the God’s saving truth to the world in a visible, tangible way.
Beauty is the sign of the Incarnation in the World. Benedict XVI in his address to artists in 2009 quoted Simone Weil in this regard: “In all that awakens within us the pure and authentic sentiment of beauty, there, truly, is the presence of God… Beauty is the experimental proof that incarnation is possible. For this reason all art of the first order is, by its nature, religious.”
Prayer Intention: Custodians of Beauty
Our primary responsibility on this earth is love. Love is a response, a relationship which requires humility. Art can be this act of love; it can demonstrate truth and goodness through beauty. To the extent that it is inspired by truth and love of beings, art bears a certain likeness to God’s activity in what he has created. When I create I must submit myself to my materials, to my subject matter, and to my collaborators. Inevitably I am always a bit surprised at the outcome, aware that something beyond me is at work within me.
Pope Benedict in his 2009 address to artists reminded us that we are “custodians of beauty in the world.” We have a responsibility to care for the gifts we have been given, to be a caretakers of the beauty he has offered us in the natural world, in relationships, and in the church.
In what ways can you become a custodian of beauty?